Steve Roach: Skeleton Keys
Projekt Records

One way electronic pioneer Steve Roach vitalizes his music is by not not only anticipating the future but by looking backwards, too. In the case of Skeleton Keys, he returned to his analog modular sequencer-based roots by recording all eight of the album's long-form tracks using a large-format analog-modular synthesizer/sequencer-based system (a photo on the inner sleeve shows Roach standing in front of the large apparatus with its many rows and columns of cables, switches, and knobs).

Representative of the recording's general style, “The Only Way In” inaugurates Skeleton Keys with shimmering swaths of twinkling synthesizers, dense tapestries whose individual elements pulsate, spiral, and weave at varying pitches. Like the Mobius Strip-like design intimated by its title, “Escher's Dream is Dreaming” features sequencer patterns that literally feel as if they're looping in on themselves. One occasionally hears in such material echoes of ‘70s artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. There are moments during “The Function Inside the Form,” for instance, where the former's influence is strongly evident, but it's hardly the only piece where the presence of such precursors looms.

Roach's music naturally has evolved throughout his multi-decade career; in recent years, it's developed into something one might call tribal-techno, an hypnotic form of music where synthesizer patterns serenely drift on delicate beds of percussion, and certain tracks on the album do, in fact, gravitate in the style's direction, among them “It's All Connected” and “Saturday Somewhere.” A number of these retro-futuristic settings unfold at a surprisingly fast clip. Though slow-motion washes might exhale in the background of “Outer Weave,” their glacial movement is offset by rapid percussive pitter-patter that powers the twanging cut at a breakneck pace. Once its kinetic rhythms lock into position, the prototypical Roach setting unfolds with a mathematical precision.

Having released a staggering number of albums over the course of his career, Roach might very well be the most contented musical artist working today. Cozily ensconced in his Arizona-based Timehouse and working diligently without pause on solo recordings and collaborations, he surfaces every three or four months to add another release to his ever-growing discography. One expects it won't be long before Skeleton Keys is followed by yet another immersive synthesizer-based excursion.

June 2015